On March 11, 2019, Sotheby’s Chairman Domenico De Sole, along with nearly 100 employees, including Chief Executive Tad Smith, celebrated Sotheby’s 275th anniversary at the New York Stock Exchange. Established on March 11, 1744, with a London books auction that totaled £826, Sotheby’s holds the distinction of being the oldest company on the exchange. Today the multibillion-dollar business has offices in 80 cities around the world.
Sotheby’s might be celebrating 275 years, but its attitude has always been one of facing forward. It was the first auction house to open offices in America in 1955, and the first to hold sales in Asia in 1973. Sotheby’s pioneered the format of the evening “event” auctions that are today a mainstay of the sale season. It’s a Sotheby’s auction in the 1970s that is credited with transforming the modern art market, when Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg became the first artists to see their own works sold under the hammer. In 2004, a Rose Period Picasso was the first piece to achieve more than $100 million, and in 2018, online sales totaled more than $220 million.
Some of the world’s most precious objects and collections have passed through Sotheby’s: Napoleon’s library (1823), the original manuscript for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1928), Einstein’s writings on the Theory of Relativity (1987), the Andy Warhol Collection (1988), Martin Luther King, Jr.’s library (2006), and Marie-Antoinette’s jewels (2018).